Ryan Newman drives race of his life

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Newman won't care if most people look back on this Brickyard 400 as a race that, well, laid a brick.

For the Indiana boy, it was one of the most exciting moments of his life, and probably the most meaningful victory of his NASCAR career.

"It's a dream come true," Newman said. "Just an awesome day for us. That was probably the best race car I've ever had in my life. I don't think I quite realize what this means yet."

Pit strategy on the last stop was the difference, enabling Newman to get an advantage on Brickyard master Jimmie Johnson (a four-time winner at Indy) and easily hold off Johnson in the final 25 laps.

Newman took two tires, Johnson took four and had an awful 18-second stop. That was it, a little chess match at the end on a day void of almost any thrills.

One of the participants in the ESPN.com race chat had the comment of the day: "More people will pass a kidney stone in the grandstands today than cars will pass each other on the track."

The 160-lap event had one on-track pass for the lead, which came on Lap 87, the first lap of a restart. Sadly, that won't bring the big crowds back to this event. Sunday's attendance clearly was an all-time low, probably 75,000 or so.

Some folks in the media center were joking about how to spice things up. How about adding a jump ramp on the backstretch? Or maybe a water hazard in Turn 3?

The 2.5-mile flat rectangle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn't going to produce exciting racing in a stock car. This one was worse than most, maybe the least-exciting show in the 20-race history of the event.

Don't tell that to Tony Stewart, the winning team owner who finished fourth Sunday.

"Look up racing in the dictionary," Stewart said. "And look up passing in the dictionary. We are racing here. If you want to see passing, go out here on [Loop] 465 and you'll see all the passing you want.

"And tell me that's more exciting than what you see here. It doesn't have to be two- and three-wide to be good racing. But for some reason in the last 10 years, everyone wants to see passing all the time. It's not racing. I don't understand where everyone got on this big kick. It baffles me as a race car driver."

Stewart doesn't care if some fans thought it was a yawner. Newman doesn't either, not on this day. He just might have saved his career.

Newman is on his way out at Stewart-Haas Racing with Kevin Harvick coming on board next season. Newman's future remains uncertain, but his chances of landing a quality ride increased about tenfold with his win in one of the biggest events of the season.

"I got fired a couple of weeks ago, but these guys on my team don't quit," Newman said of the No. 39 Chevy crew. "These guys are behind me and I'm behind them."

Stewart was overjoyed to see his longtime friend and fellow Hoosier get his first victory of the season at the place they both worship. Stewart went to Victory Lane, grabbed Newman from behind and lifted him off his feet.

"I'm just really proud of him,'' Stewart said of Newman. "He's a great teammate and even a better friend. I'm glad our last year at the Brickyard as teammates ended this way. And I don't know how we could have a better week as a company."

The Eldora Speedway dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, which Stewart owns, played host to the race that caused a huge buzz.

The Camping World Truck Series event Wednesday night, NASCAR's first dirt-track event in over 40 years, was a bumper-banging blast (with plenty of passing, by the way) that received enormous praise from fans and competitors.

It was the talk of the week. Sunday's raced paled in comparison. It also couldn't come close to equaling one of the best Indy 500s in years two months earlier.

The NASCAR drivers don't see an easy solution.

"Unless you change the tires or change the banking here, that's the way it's going to be," said Kasey Kahne, who finished third.

It's a dream come true. Just an awesome day for us. That was probably the best race car I've ever had in my life. I don't think I quite realize what this means yet.

-- Ryan Newman

"In general, it's a flat track and just tough to pass," Johnson said. "It has four 90-degree turns. But we still love this place."

Johnson didn't look like he was feeling much love. He knew the 48 Chevy team had the best car and should have won Sunday.

"We had a little mistake on pit road," Johnson said. "But the biggest thing on my mind is we win as a team and we lose as a team. There also have been some late-race decisions by me lately that took a win away from us.

"These things are so hard to win. Having a race-winning car like we did, I hate to let an opportunity like this slip by."

Matt Borland, Newman's crew chief, elected to change only right-side tires on the last stop after watching the 48 change four. Johnson finished 2.6 seconds back. He still might have caught Newman if not for an unusually slow stop, about six seconds slower than the typical four-tire stop.

"I would have been a lot closer to him," Johnson said. "But catching him and passing him is a lot different. It was a mistake on our part, but stuff happens."

Yes, it does. Too bad more "stuff" didn't happen Sunday. It won't go down as a race to remember, unless you happen to be Ryan Newman.